Yale University's Institute of Human Relations and the Spanish Civil War: Dollard and Miller's Study of Fear and Courage under Battle Conditions

By Gondra, José María; de Miguel, Manuel Sánchez | The Spanish Journal of Psychology, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Yale University's Institute of Human Relations and the Spanish Civil War: Dollard and Miller's Study of Fear and Courage under Battle Conditions


Gondra, José María, de Miguel, Manuel Sánchez, The Spanish Journal of Psychology


In the late 1930s, the Institute of Human Relations of Yale University developed a research program on conflict and anxiety as an outcome of Clark Hull's informal seminar on the integration of Freud's and Pavlov's theories. The program was launched at the 1937 Annual Meeting of the APA in a session chaired by Clark L. Hull, and the experiments continued through 1941, when the United States entered the Second World War. In an effort to apply the findings from animal experiments to the war situation, John Dollard and Neal E. Miller decided to study soldiers' fear reactions in combat. As a first step, they arranged interviews with a few veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Taking these interviews as a point of departure, Dollard devised a questionnaire to which 300 former Lincoln brigaders responded. The present paper analyzes the main outcomes of the questionnaire, together with the war experiences reported in the interview transcripts. Our purpose was to evaluate a project which was initially investigated by the FBI because of the communists among the Lincoln ranks, but eventually supported by the American Army, and which exerted great influence on the military psychology of the time.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln Brigade, fear in battle, neobehaviorism, Yale Institute of Human Relations. WarPsychology, Military Psychology.

A finales de la década de 1930 el Institute of Human Relations de la Universidad de Yale desarrolló un programa de investigación sobre el conflicto y la ansiedad como resultado del seminario informal de Clark H. Hull sobre la integración de las teorías de Freud y Pavlov. El programa se puso en marcha en la reunión anual de la APA de 1937 en una sesión presidida por Hull y los experimentos continuaron en 1941, cuando los Estados Unidos entraron en la segunda guerra mundial. En un intento de aplicar los hallazgos de los experimentos con animales a la situación bélica, John Dollard y Neal E. Miller decidieron estudiar las reacciones de miedo de los soldados en el combate. Como primer paso concertaron entrevistas con unos pocos veteranos de la Brigada Abraham Lincoln. Tomando estas entrevistas como punto de partida, Dollard diseñó un cuestionario al que contestaron 300 antiguos brigadistas de la Lincoln.

Este artículo analiza los resultados principales del cuestionario, así como las experiencias de guerra reflejadas en las transcripciones de las entrevistas. Nuestro propósito ha sido evaluar un proyecto que fue investigado inicialmente por el FBI por la presencia comunista en las filas de la Lincoln, pero finalmente apoyado por el ejército norteamericano, y que ejerció una gran influencia sobre la psicología militar de la época.

Palabras clave: Brigada Abraham Lincoln, miedo en combate, neoconductismo, Yale Institute of Human Relations, Psicología de Guerra, Psicología Militar.

The Spanish Civil War halted the development of Spanish scientific psychology. The International Congress of Psychology, which was to take place in Madrid in September 1936, had to be cancelled after the outbreak of hostilities (Carpintero & Lafuente, 2008; Montoro & Quintanilla, 1982). Three years later, the Republican defeat forced the leaders of the profession to go into exile abroad. The new regime imposed a psychology highly influenced by the conservative views of Neo-Scholastic philosophy (Carpintero, 1984).

However, the effects of the war were not all negative for psychology, since the experiences of the men who fought in Spain contributed to the development of military psychology. This is evidenced by the transcripts of interviews with veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (ALB) preserved in the Yale and New York University archives. These men played an important role in the research conducted during the Second World War by the Yale Institute of Human Relations on fear among soldiers. Specifically, they provided the empirical basis needed for the development of a questionnaire on fear and courage in modern warfare. …

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